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Archive for March 24th, 2013

The girl with pink bows in her hair wrapped her small hands around the lowest branch of the tall Tree. ‘How long since I have climbed up here?’ she briefly pondered upside down, before refocusing the world again the right way round. The answer felt like many months – possibly even longer. For the longest time, the longest part of her day had been spent locked high inside the tall Ivory Tower, trapped beneath the dark mahogany desk, drawing, cutting and colouring crude paper butterflies, suspending them from glittery lengths of string. But always, in her heart of hearts, she had longed to feel her legs dangling from the lofty heights of her favourite sturdy, tree branch far from the Tower, perched high like a bird, resting from a long day’s flight. 

Each time she found a rare moment to peak through the Tower’s small, dim window, she always imagined she could see the faint, silhouette of the sacred Tree on the other side of the dark valley, far off in the distance. Once or twice, she thought she saw a brief burst of blue and a sparkly flash of red moving slowly down the long, winding path towards the Tree’s wide trunk. At those moments, she would sigh deeply and murmur, ‘My friends are looking for me. But I am not there.’ And she wondered if they ever missed her as much as she truly missed them.

She replayed their happiest memories in her mind, over and over like the little glass carousel she kept on the desk in the Ivory Tower, its tiny silver butterflies spinning in endless circles over the gentle heat of a bright candle’s flame. One memory sparkled bright as a sapphire – the day the white-haired boy in the long blue coat, and just a little older than herself, had appeared as if by some strange magic in the Tree. ‘Who are you?’ the girl enquired, brushing a stray brown strand of fringe from her eyes and raising herself fearlessly to sit on a branch not far from his. She had never seen another Child in this Tree before.

‘It’s me,’ he replied, and she accepted his strange response, though she could not quite tell whether he was shy or confident, wary or watchful. Perhaps he had also climbed this Tree every day of his life in those mysterious times of day before she arrived to make her climb, or after she had climbed down. Perhaps he felt that she was the intruder, that somehow this Tree was his alone. He had seemed somewhat surprised and confused to discover that anyone else had felt entitled to equal claim.

Day after day when she had climbed, she found the boy sitting quietly on the branch he had seemed to claim as his own. At first, he was very reserved, keeping all his thoughts locked deep inside his mind. Then slowly, she had spied the bright gleam hidden in his eye, revealing a heart and mind so much like her own. ‘I fold pleats into shiny paper butterflies and hang them from my branch with glittery string,’ she confided. ‘See?’ And when he did not mock her, she told him, ‘And sometimes I paint pictures of all the creatures of the sea.’ She smiled to see his eyes brighten a little. ‘You could paint with me, if you like?’ 

And when the two children started to paint together high in the Tree overlooking the sea, the colours had burst off their canvas into swirling, vibrant life. All the golds and blues and greens flowed like water from their brushes, then over the sandy shore, becoming part of the ocean itself. And sometimes the two friends’ thoughts became words like glistening pink and blue soap bubbles, blown into life with great precision and care, then rising, sparkling in the sunlight like magical balloons that could never burst, ascending past the clouds to join the stars – how brightly they shone! 

Sometimes they seemed to need no words at all, gliding through the crystal water, able to communicate as if by pure thought alone. The little girl smiled to herself. ‘Pure’ was the only way to describe the bond that had grown between them, almost like sister and brother, but certainly as the best kind of friends. She wondered whether every person might some day find this sort of friend to share a bond so pure and free, like balloons that floated into the sky without ever being held by a string. Her smile danced on a breeze when she thought of all the words that had passed between them – the most child-like words two people could ever exchange.

Then she sank a little at the thought of how few balloons she had been able to send into the sky since she had allowed herself to be locked inside the Tower. Yes, she had allowed herself to be locked away. For as long as she could remember, she had walked down the long windy path through the sun-dappled forest to climb the Tree alone, and from its highest branches, she had always seen the beautiful Ivory Tower far in the distance, glistening in the sparkling sunlight. How she had longed to see inside of it, to be considered worthy to even climb half-way up the tall, spiral stairs, to enter the secret spaces so few would ever see for themselves! 

Yes – she knew she was just a small girl, one who would probably always climb the tree by herself each day to daydream, hanging folded paper butterflies with glittery string from her solitary branch and pretending they were real. But somewhere hidden inside her favourite daydreams, she believed deeply that she might truly be a Princess, destined to take her inevitable place inside the dazzling Ivory Tower. 

And now, just as she had discovered the mysterious white-haired boy with whom to share all the wonders and mysteries of the Tree, a magical door had opened before her – without her even knocking! – and almost without warning she had been whisked from the Tree and transported into the the unseen depths of the Tower. Its bone-white door closed heavily behind her with hollow, resounding finality, declaring ‘You are no longer a Child; you are indeed a Princess. Here you now belong.’ It had happened so suddenly and unexpectedly; there had been no time to explain.

‘I’ve gone,’ she scribbled onto a hasty paper butterfly, sending it through the Tower’s small window. But she knew in her heart that its pleated paper wings would never find a way to fly to the Tree, to the boy who sat waiting for her to come and play with water and words and paper and light once more. She peeked through the window. Far, far away, she thought she saw a small figure in a blue coat, climb down from the Tree, turn his back against it, and dejectedly walk away. 

‘No!’ she felt the desperate scream rising in her throat. ‘You mustn’t turn your back! One of us must stay, or else the Tree shall die!’ And somehow his pained, strained thoughts found a way to reach her, ‘It’s dying already. The magic that kept the Tree alive has already started to dissolve.  Once there was sun; now there are clouds. The words that once flowed like water, nourishing the Tree from deepest roots to greenest leaves, are now locked in a dark tower far, far away.’  

And it was true – though the Ivory Tower dazzled from a distance, inside it was almost always dark and cold. And feeling herself utterly trapped, the girl in pink overalls who was now a Princess slowly remembered how she had wished herself into the Tower. Steadily, she began to wonder whether there was any way by which she might be able to now wish herself away from it, even if just for a few moments, once more.

And with that single wondering, wishful thought, she found herself far from the cold Tower, running with increasing speed along the cool, familiar forest path towards the Friendship Tree. No longer an imprisoned Princess, a small girl in overalls, with pink bows in her hair, squealed with delight and wrapped her hands around the lowest branch of the tree, pulling the whole weight of her small body upwards. 

And rather than feeling overcome with bliss and glee, the Child felt the tiny heart within her begin to break as, looking up, she beheld how withered and lifeless the Tree had become. ‘How long since I have climbed up here?’ she wondered, shielding her eyes from the harsh sunlight that scorched through the Tree’s bare branches, burning her arms and face. 

‘And where is the white-haired boy in the long blue coat?’ She had hoped against all hope that somehow he might have found a way to return to his branch while she had been locked in the Tower – that somehow, he had found enough magic on his own to keep the Tree alive. In vain, she scanned all the bare branches above her, and like an uncertain prayer, she reached out her thoughts, hoping he might be close enough to hear them and reply.

‘It’s me,’ he answered with his thoughts, though they were not as troubled or distant as his friend had feared. ‘What can you see?’ Listening intently, she thought she could hear tiny beams of light in his voice. And looking far into the distant direction of the Ivory Tower, joy rose within her as the sunlight danced towards her upon the distant breeze. She could see him now, her long-lost friend, steadily releasing one delicate paper butterfly after another from the deep pocket of his long blue coat. One by one, the butterflies the boy released began to glisten, shine and sparkle, before alighting upon a glittery string tied head-height around the base of the distant Tower. Reds, greens, golds, pinks, blues – each butterfly seemed animated to brilliant life by endless bright beams of radiant sun. 

And though there were many, many miles between the Tower and the Tree, with each step the boy took, another butterfly escaped from the deep pocket of his cloak, then suspended itself like a sparkling jewel from the mobile he was hanging. As each one shimmered magically into view, reflecting in its fragile wings the full radiance of the sun, the girl in pink felt the heart within her animate to life as yet another small, supple leaf appeared magically on the branches around her. She could feel the bare branch over which her legs dangled fill with water and life and light, and soon the entire tree was more alive and vibrant than it had ever been before. Surely, it had become stronger and taller than the imposing Ivory Tower on the far side of the valley. ‘I wished myself into that Tower,’ she thought across the distance to her friend, ‘But I never knew I could wish myself back to the Tree.’

‘You couldn’t,’ the distant boy replied, releasing more, more, more bright butterflies, each time taking yet another slow, steady step towards where his friend awaited him in the Tree. Now it was so full of life and green that he could hear his friend’s thoughts, but could no longer see the branch on which she sat. ‘It only took one of us to wish you to the Tower, but it took both of us to wish you back to the Tree. I’ve been wondering how long it would take you to make that wish, and I’ve been folding all these paper butterflies while I waited. I can promise you that this is no ordinary Butterfly Mobile. It is truly magical. Each butterfly is the most powerful wish that will help you return from Tower to Tree and back again.’

‘But how many are there?’ the girl in pink now called down from where she sat hidden in the Tree, for with each butterfly the boy released from his pocket to take its delicate place upon the mobile, his steps seemed to turn into magical flight in the direction of the Tree. ‘At least a thousand,’ she heard him reply, and at that point she realised with certainty that wishes were wings that could transport anybody anywhere, as long as the wish was shared. She peered down from her strong branch, now heavy and vibrant with supple, green leaves, and watched as the boy in the long blue coat gently guided the final butterfly out of his pocket, wrapping the last length of the mobile around the Tree’s thick trunk. 

‘There is no longer a valley dividing the Tower and Tree. The two are now connected by an unbreakable string full of wishes that will transport you from one to the other with a simple, sparkly butterfly’s flutter. All you need to do is wish – and believe.’ And with that, he was sitting on the branch beside her as though there had never been a valley between them. And although the Ivory Tower still dazzled in the distance, now it was no longer a blissful daydream. Nor was it a dreaded nightmare. Finally, it was simply a tower. And tied to it were a thousand glittering butterflies that would take her straight back in a moment’s wish to the place she most longed to be, as a little girl with pink bows in her hair, sitting on a branch near her most magical friend in all the world, high up in The Friendship Tree.

 

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